God’s Moral Attributes

God’s Righteousness and Justice. VII: Christ our Merciful and Righteous King

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

An Ash Wednesday cross on a worshiper’s forehead. Photo by Jennifer Balaska, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Many Christians began observing Lent this past week. In some churches, pastors marked congregation members’ foreheads with a cross-shaped mark using the ashes from burned palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. The pastor generally accompanies this marking by saying, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Lent reminds us of our mortality and our need for forgiveness. It reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “{T}he wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

In Lent, we are reminded of our unrighteousness and that Christ’s righteousness and mercy are our only hope. During the last Sunday of Lent, Palm Sunday, many churches will commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which was prophesied in Zechariah 9:9 (Matthew 21:5 quotes this verse as he describes Jesus riding a borrowed donkey).

Jesus’ arrival must have been a dramatic sight. For three years, He had preached and performed miracles. People got excited, convinced that He was the Messiah, the coming Great King of Israel who would overthrow the Roman authorities. Jesus had even at times said enough to confirm that He thought He was the Messiah.

The Triumphal Entry, artist unknown, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

And now, just a few days before Passover, as Jewish pilgrims from all over the Roman Empire were flooding Jerusalem, Jesus rode into the ancient capital city of Judea. He sat astride a colt, as if He was a king, while His followers shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matthew 21:9).

There was no mistaking His intentions now. In the past, He might have hinted that He was the Messiah. Now, His actions shouted it. He consciously chose to ride on a donkey, thereby fulfilling Zechariah 9:9.

Stained glass window depicting the triumphal entry of Jesus, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Albany, NY. Photo by Nheyob, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

However, His actions also shouted what kind of king He was. A conquering king would enter the city on a horse as if ready to do battle. When a king came in peace, he would ride a donkey. Jesus was contrasting Himself with many of the kings the Jews had seen in recent years. Greek rulers and Roman Caesars had come to steal, kill, and destroy. Jesus was now coming so that the people could have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).

God’s justice intertwines itself with His other attributes. He comes not only to exercise His justice but also to reveal His humility and mercy as He brings salvation. The Jews suffered persecution and domination for centuries. God’s Great King would come to deliver His people. Zechariah 9:1–8 tells us how God would judge the nations that afflicted His chosen people.

Yet, “He will speak peace to the nations” (Zechariah 9:10). Jesus’ goal is not to destroy, but to save and redeem. He comes to destroy the works of the devil, but He comes to deliver people from Satan’s rule. Jesus’ justice and mercy mingle. Are we willing to receive His offer of peace, or do we choose to remain at odds with Him? He comes in peace to establish His righteous and just kingdom. We decide whether we will accept His terms of peace or rebel against Him. No matter which we choose, He will reign triumphant.

What do you think about Jesus’ righteousness, justice, and mercy? Share your thoughts about this or anything else related to Cornelius’ story by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, God's Moral Attributes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God’s Righteousness and Justice. VI: Righteous Men—Cornelius the Centurion

“They said, ‘Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you’” (Acts 10:22, New American Standard Bible).

St. Cornelius Window, Chapel of St. Cornelius, Governors Island, New York. From Wikipedia, under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Some recent posts on this blog have considered the righteousness and justice of God. Here, we meet a Gentile who is described by his servants as “a righteous and God-fearing man.” Acts 10 is devoted to his conversion.

The New Testament teaches that one can only be righteous by having faith in Jesus Christ and being clothed in His righteousness. So, the above verse raises a question: How could Cornelius be righteous if he was not yet a Christian?

Can a person be clothed in the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus before placing their faith in Him? Is it possible to be saved before one comes to know Jesus? Some preachers and theologians believe that God might count someone as having faith in Jesus even if they did not know who He was because their life and attitude suggest they would gladly receive Christ if they knew who He was. This concept of “inclusivism” is illustrated in C. S. Lewis’ book, The Last Battle, the finale of The Chronicles of Narnia. The Christ-like lion king Aslan welcomes Emeth, a soldier in the enemy army who recognizes Aslan as the rightful ruler, into his kingdom, stating that any righteous acts Emeth had done in the name of his false god would be accepted as having been done for Aslan.

This teaching appeals to many Christians who think about the billions who have lived and died without hearing the Gospel. It is painful to imagine that billions of people could be in hell simply because they were born in an area where no Christians brought the Gospel. I would find it comforting to think that there could be nice people from pagan societies in heaven even though they never knew Jesus’ name. However, Christians must take our guidance from God’s Word:

“… ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:13–14).

Paul began his letter to the Romans by arguing that nobody is righteous and that all people deserve God’s wrath (culminating in a litany of bold Old Testament statements in Romans 3:9–18). It might be comforting to believe people can be saved without hearing about Jesus, but let us not leap to that assumption. Jesus told us to be His witnesses and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18–20). It is our responsibility to preach His Word, and it is God’s responsibility to decide how He will exercise His mercy.

Can God call somebody “righteous” before they accept Christ? Perhaps Cornelius was one of the elect, predestined to become a Christian, and that is why he is called righteous. I am not aware of any passages of Scripture that would guarantee such a possibility. However, since we know that God predestined those whom He foreknew to be conformed to Christ’s image (Romans 8:29), we can safely say that Cornelius ended up being righteous by His standards.

Perhaps Cornelius’ messengers were misguided, thinking in merely human terms. It is human nature to think of some people as “good people” or “righteous individuals.” We all know people whom we think of as good people. They try to do the right thing and treat other people well, so despite the litany about human depravity in Romans 3:9–18, we think of them as “good people,” even if they do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ. When Paul says, “There is no righteous person, not even one” (Romans 3:10), we assume our unsaved-but-really-nice friend is an exception to that rule. Perhaps Cornelius’ messengers thought like that: He tried to treat people well; he used his influence as a centurion to help people instead of taking advantage of them; he gave to those in need. By human standards, he seemed righteous.

A “god-fearer” in the New Testament was a Gentile who had come to believe in One True God. Often, they saw a lot of truth in the Jewish religion and tried to follow many of its laws. They might try to live by Old Testament standards of justice, righteousness, and morality. However, they did not take the leap to fully convert to Judaism by being circumcised and may not have followed all of the ceremonial laws and traditions.

However, God had begun a work in Cornelius’ life before the angel appeared to him. Jesus taught His disciples that the Holy Spirit would convict the world regarding sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8–11). Cornelius had been convicted. He wanted to follow the one true God. God honored that desire by directing him to one who could help him find the right path by faith in Jesus Christ.

God was working in Cornelius’ life before he knew about Christ. Looking back at my own life, I can see how He was drawing me before I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I had been raised in the Roman Catholic Church, but by the time I was a teenager I wandered from that faith. Nevertheless, I could never bring myself to thinking about “God” without associating Him with “Jesus.” So, in my late teens, when I entered a phase of spiritual searching (including dabbling in the occult and studying a few non-Christian ideologies), that foundation stayed with me. One night, I found myself reading the Sermon on the Mount and was impressed that Jesus’ teachings were very practical but also seemed humanly impossible. It occurred to me that Jesus did not come to form a new religion but to create a new kind of person. A few months later, some people shared the Gospel with me, and my heart and mind were ready to receive the truth.

Could I be called righteous before I ended my spiritual search by accepting Christ? I would not have used that phrase then, and I still do not think of my pre-Christian self as a righteous person. (I have enough trouble thinking of myself as righteous after 37 years of following Jesus!) Perhaps one cannot think of Cornelius as completely righteous before he met Peter. Nevertheless, the seeker and the God-fearer are both drawn and inspired by the righteousness of God. This is what draws us to Him, and it should be what inspires us to continue walking with Christ every day.

What do you think? How can one be “righteous” before salvation? Share your thoughts about this or anything else related to Cornelius’ story by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Baptism of Our Lord: To Fulfill All Righteousness

“Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ But Jesus answering said to him, ‘Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he permitted Him. After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased’” (Matthew 3:13–17; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise indicated).

The baptism of Jesus. Image by Ananth Subray, published under a Creative Commons 4.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

Today, the Church commemorates the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan River. For some time, John the Baptist had been “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). People came and confessed their sins to him (Matthew 3:6). They did not merely admit that they were sinners: “Nobody’s perfect” is not a confession. The confessed specific sins, and John gave explicit instructions about changes they should make (Luke 3:10-14). In many cases, those sins were common activities: Roman soldiers normally used their power to coerce, manipulate, and rob people; tax collectors used their authority to demand more money from people than the government required. We still excuse our sins by saying “Everybody’s doing it,” but that pretense did not satisfy John the Baptist or God.

Amid John’s ministry, Jesus came for baptism. John immediately recognized Him as the Messiah and realized, “I have need to be baptized by You.” John admitted that he was not worthy to untie Jesus’ shoe (Matthew 3:11), but Jesus was here asking to be baptized. Why? “In this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” The Contemporary English Version phrases it this way: “we must do all that God wants us to do.”

Why would Jesus need baptism for repentance? He was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Perhaps this verse points to an answer:

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The Jordan River. Photo by Jean Housen, published under a Creative Commons 3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

Many think that Jesus fulfilled His entire ministry of atonement on the cross. However, His entire life was a sacrifice for our sins. As John the Baptist immersed people in the Jordan River, they could imagine their sins being washed, like dirt from their bodies, into the water. Now, here came Jesus: He did not have the dirt of sin on Him. As He went into the water, He began to symbolically take the sins upon Himself. I can imagine Him confessing the sins of all the people present, knowing that He would die for those sins three years later.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” (Romans 6:1–7).

He was baptized as one of us. He identified with us, accepted our human nature, and joined us in the waters or repentance in baptism. Now, we join Him in a baptism of repentance, forgiveness, and resurrection. His baptism in the water began a ministry that culminated in His baptism in death upon a cross. When we come to Him in faith, we receive baptism into His death and resurrection. We accept His death upon ourselves, receive His forgiveness and the life-giving power of His Holy Spirit, and live a new life in resurrection power as we continue to walk with Him.

2020 was a challenging year for all of us, and the insanity did not end with the beginning of a new year. We will continue to face challenges and tests. Are we willing to be fully immersed in the life of Christ as we face the uncertain times that lie ahead? While our world remains uncertain, Jesus’ life-giving power remains trustworthy and certain.

How are you experiencing baptism into the life of Christ on a daily basis? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, God's Moral Attributes | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

God’s Righteousness and Justice. V: The Birth and Life of Christ

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD,
“When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch;
And He will reign as king and act wisely
And do justice and righteousness in the land.
In His days Judah will be saved,
And Israel will dwell securely;
And this is His name by which He will be called,
‘The LORD our righteousness’” (Jeremiah 23:5–6; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Image from needpix.com, published under a Creative Commons license.

Christmas is a good time to reflect on the justice and righteousness of God. They were key elements of the Jewish people’s Messianic hopes and essential to Jesus’ reasons for coming into the world. (Take some time to read Mary’s song of praise, traditionally known as The Magnificat, in Luke 1:46–55, and you will see her hope of God’s judgment and mercy.)

The Jewish people suffered oppression throughout their history. The nation of Israel had grown as slaves in Egypt before Moses led them forth. By the time Jeremiah prophesied, the northern tribes of Israel had been overthrown by Assyria and taken into exile, and the southern kingdom of Judah was beginning to experience the same fate at the hands of the Babylonians.

Jeremiah proclaimed God’s promise that, someday, the Jews would receive deliverance. They would return to their homeland. Eventually, God would send a great King, a descendant of David that would reign in God’s righteousness. Anticipation of this coming King, the Messiah, comforted and inspired the Jews throughout the centuries that followed.

Even after returning from Babylonian exile, the Jewish people would experience more oppression: the Medo-Persian empire, then the Greeks, and later the Romans. When Jesus was born, Judea was a province of the Roman Empire, ruled by Roman governors or puppet kings.

Jesus’ birth brought the promised “Lord our righteousness” to Earth. The fullness of God dwelled within Him (Colossians 2:9). Jeremiah, recalling Isaiah 11:1, called Jesus “a righteous Branch” of David; the name of Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth, is derived from the Hebrews word netzer, which means “branch.” The Branch of David, the Messiah, grew up in the town of the branch.

When He came that time, Jesus brought spiritual salvation, not only to the Jewish people, but to all humanity. The Bible repeatedly tells us that all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13; Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21). The fullness of God’s righteousness will appear when Jesus “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end,” as the Nicene Creed says.

Christmas reminds us that God sent His Son to be our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). He has brought God’s righteousness to us. We can and should trust in no savior except Jesus Christ, who is The Lord our Righteousness. No religious or political leader can bring God’s righteousness and justice to us. Nobody else is worthy of our praise.

Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes, Holidays | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

God’s Righteousness and Justice. IV: Righteous Men—Noah

“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:8–9; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

“Noah’s Ark Mosaic Iconography.” Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay.

One can grow discouraged contemplating God’s righteousness and justice if we have a wrong perspective. We see words like “righteous” and “blameless” and conclude we cannot measure up to those standards. After all, most of us cannot claim that our official slogan is “I’ve made it,” “I’ve got it all together,” or “I never make any mistakes.” For most of us, our slogan is probably the title of a Britney Spears song: “Oops, I Did It Again.”

I thank God that His Word does not hide the failures of His people. We read that Noah was “righteous” and “blameless.” We hear about how Abraham is the father of our faith. Moses is depicted as one of the greatest men of all time. Scripture honors the great heroes of the faith, but it also broadcasts their sins and shortcomings as loudly as their accomplishments.

The Bible introduces Noah shortly after summarizing the spiritual condition of mankind:

“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).

The world was filled with violence (Gen. 6:11), wickedness, selfishness, and greed. It was so bad that Jesus compared the apostasy of the end times with the days of Noah:

“For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:37–39).

In a world that ignored God, where everybody sought pleasure, Noah “walked with God.” Therefore, he found favor (a few translations, including the King James Version, say he found “grace”) with God, Who called him to build an ark and preserve a remnant of living things while God judged the world’s sin.

Depiction of Genesis 9:20-27 in York Minster East Window. Photo by Jules and Jenny from Lincoln, UK,under a Creative Commons license via Wikimedia Commons.

However, Noah was not perfect. Genesis 9:20–27 tells us that he planted a vineyard after the flood and got drunk on some wine he made afterward. While drunk, he lay naked in his tent and was seen by his son Ham. In response, Ham’s brothers, Shem and Japheth, slipped in with their backs turned so they could cover their father without seeing him. It is not completely clear what the great shame and secret are here. It was not the wine: Shem and Japheth covered their father’s nakedness; they did not snatch his stash of home-brewed booze. Perhaps the Bible is politely not describing something that would have been obvious to ancient readers. Maybe Noah was doing something inappropriate in his drunken stupor. Maybe Ham did something with his father. Sometimes the Bible leaves out some details so that we can focus on our situation rather than critique the choices of the patriarchs. Noah was drunk, and whatever he did at that time would have humiliated the family if they still had any neighbors.

Whatever it was, Noah’s righteousness was not perfection. Great men of God often made big mistakes. Abraham “believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). However, Abraham would go on to lie about his wife, saying she was his sister, risking to have her taken in marriage by another man. Moses committed murder and later made excuses why he could not lead the Israelites. King David, a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14) and ancestor of Jesus, committed adultery, conspiracy to murder, and other sins and crimes. None were perfect, but all would come to repentance as they grew in faith toward God.

A righteous person is not perfect. It is someone who comes to faith in God through Jesus Christ and desires to walk with Him. We might stumble. We might struggle. We might lose our focus at times. But, we can always return to Him in faith and receive forgiveness and renewal. No matter how you have sinned, simply confess your mistakes to God, repent, receive His forgiveness, and continue to walk with Him. Do not give up.

“Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).

May we all grow in faith, love, hope, and knowledge of Christ Jesus.

How do you think God wants to reveal more of His righteousness through you? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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